Opinion
2:13 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

Common Core standards in Michigan are forcing big changes in education

Just last year, when I brought up the Common Core to my non-educator friends, I would usually see a furrowed brow and a tilted head.

They’d never heard of it.

That’s certainly changed. Most people have at least heard of Common Core by now. 

Still, I find very few folks have anything more than the vaguest notions about the Common Core. They seem to know that most states are a part of it, but not much more.

School districts across Michigan held meetings to inform people about the Common Core, and for this they should be applauded, but I urge you to investigate this issue on your own.

It may be the most radical change in education policy this country has ever seen.

While administrators may not feel free to say it, I will tell you that most teachers are circumspect about whether the Common Core will lead to positive reform. Our worst fear is that it’s simply part of the continued efforts by some to discredit and dismantle public education. 

Schools have been under attack for years now, and the failure of No Child Left Behind has educators understandably skeptical about so-called "reform" efforts.

Moreover, the speed with which this is happening makes us very nervous. We’re being asked to make wholesale changes in curriculum and instruction methods without meaningful guidance from the state, and in an incredibly narrow time frame. 

Does the blind leading the blind in a rush to carry out an incomplete policy of mysterious origins aimed toward vague and poorly defined goals sound like a good idea? Yeah, we’re anxious, – you should be too.

Most concerning is how little people know about where the Common Core came from and who’s behind it. It’s too complicated for me to fully address here, but I’ll give you a couple of tidbits.

Did you know, for example, that no public school educators were involved in the original construction of the Common Core standards?  And when the group who was behind that effort - an interest group called Achieve, Incorporated that has close ties to Bill Gates - did seek input from educators, some of those educators refused to approve it until their concerns were addressed. 

...implementation of the Common Core is a potential gold mine for education testing and publishing companies, online education firms, and the like.

Achieve responded to these concerns by ignoring the educators and moving forward with the project.

Additionally, implementation of the Common Core is a potential gold mine for education testing and publishing companies, online education firms, and the like.

If you don’t think there are private sector concerns pushing for this because of the lure of profits instead of what’s best for kids, you’re either willfully ignorant or hopelessly naïve. Governor Snyder’s secret “Skunk Works” group was an unintended peek into the money grab voucher advocates and others are attempting by privatizing the public schools.

Still, even with these serious concerns, I think it’s fair to say most teachers are not opposed to the spirit of the Common Core. These new curriculum standards do indeed require higher order thinking skills and for students to demonstrate their learning in ways that go beyond traditional standardized tests.

In spite of what anti-public school advocates say, we teachers are not obstructionists to true and helpful reforms. But neither are we servile peons who shy away from asking questions that need to be asked.

  • Will teachers be given the time to implement these changes?
  • Will the state provide more guidance on how students will be evaluated?
  • Will the tests and technology needed to complete them function properly?
  • Will student test results be used in a punitive way in a continuing war against teachers and teacher unions?

All these questions and more hover over the Common Core like dark clouds before a possible rain storm. 

I implore you to educate yourself about the Common Core and to get involved with parent and community groups to monitor its progress.

The truth is that politicians and other decision-makers don’t listen to teachers anymore. I think we’re kind of important in the whole education thing, but the public schools and education policy have become hopelessly politicized.

It’s a sad state of affairs when the people charged with implementing this far-reaching change in education policy – both administration and teachers – don’t know what they need to know.

We would like some answers to those questions before we rush into this.

I would think you would, too.

Keith Kindred teaches social studies at East South Lyon High School. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or its license holder, the University of Michigan.